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Lenni BRENNER

ZIONISM IN THE AGE OF DICTATORS

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Chapter 15

 

AUSTRIA AND THE 'GENTILE FRIENDS OF ZIONISM'

 

The First World War destroyed four empires and created a string of new states in Central Europe. Of all these the one with the least rationale was Austria. Its population was virtually entirely German and, in 1919, the Austrian Parliament, with only one dissenting vote, voted for union with Germany; the Allies, however, refused to countenance the merger and the Social-Democratic-dominated coalition reluctantly continued to rule. In the summer of 1920, the anti-Semitic Christian Socials took control of the national government, although the leftists were able to maintain a grip on the Viennese city administration.

Three ideological currents competed for power in the truncated republic. The Communist Party was one of the weakest in Europe, and the Social Democrats saw their enemies to the right in the Catholic Christian Socials --the party of the peasantry and the urban lower middle class-- and the anti-Semitic German nationalists, with their base in the professions and the white-collar workers. Although both bourgeois groupings were hostile to democracy, the enormous strength of the Socialists in Vienna and Austria's financial dependence on Britain and France, precluded any coup d'Etat. But both the Social Democrats and the Christian Socials were careful to maintain substantial party militias.

 

'This Great Patriot and Leader of his Countly'

 

The Social Democrats' first major leader, Victor Adler, was a Jew; so was its leading theoretician, Otto Bauer, and Jews comprised almost half of the party leadership. Inevitably, the movement always saw threats to the Jews as a mortal danger to itself and acted accordingly. The worker ranks were extremely loyal to their Jewish comrades and had not the least hesitation in physically combating the anti-Semites, as Hitler records himself in Mein Kampf, writing of his experiences in his first job, on a construction site in pre-war Vienna:

 

These men rejected everything: the nation as an invention of the 'capitalistic' (how often was I forced to hear this single word!) classes; the fatherland as an instrument of the bourgeoisie for the exploitation of the working class; the authority of law as a means of oppressing the proletariat... There was absolutely nothing which was not drawn through the mud... I tried to keep silent. But at length... I began to take a position... one day they made use of the weapon which most readily conquers reason... A few of the spokesmen on the opposing side forced me either to leave the building at once or be thrown off the scaffolding.[(1)]

 

From the beginning the Social Democratic workers fought the Nazis when the first signs of the new party appeared in Vienna in 1923. Bands of hoodlums carrying the swastika flag had started to beat up Jews and on one occasion they killed a worker; this brought the Social Democrats out for battle by the thousands. A writer for the American Menorah Journal, one of the leading Jewish magazines of its day, described the result:

 

No pogrom meetings can now be held undisturbed. The organised workingmen, social democrats and communists, frequently storm the meetings of the anti-Semites, not because of their friendship for the Jews, but because they believe the life of the republic at stake.[(2)]

 

The vast majority of Austrian Jews identified with the Social Democrats. Amongst the few who did not were the Zionists of the Judischenationale Partei (JnP). But the Jews were only 2.8 per cent of the entire Austrian population, and no more than 10 per cent of Vienna's voters, and the tiny JnP succeeded only once in electing a candidate to the Austrian Parliament. It was he, Robert Stricker, who cast the sole vote opposing unity with Germany in 1919, a move which guaranteed his defeat in 1920. Three more Zionists were elected to the city council in the early 1920s; in 1920 the Zionists polled 21 per cent of Vienna's Jewish vote and in 1923 their percentage even increased to 26 per cent, but after that the Zionist vote fell away strongly, and by 1930 it polled a mere 0.2 per cent of the total vote.[(3)] Although the JnP's role in Austrian political life was insignificant, its short career is illustrative of the insularity and the petty-bourgeois character of European Zionism. Most of the JnP's supporters never thought of themselves as emigrating to Palestine. Many of Vienna's Jews had only recently arrived from Galicia. The Zionism of the JnP represented the last vestige of their ghetto mentality. It was not a protest against the anti-Semites; that cause was fought out in the streets in the Social Democratic militia. Austrian Zionism was a petty-bourgeois protest against socialism, and the Christian Socials were always delighted to see the JnP draw some votes away from their radical foes. In turn the Zionists did not see the Christian Socials as their enemies. Sokolow was in Durban, South Africa, in 1934, when he heard of the murder of Austria's Prime Minister, Engelbert Dollfuss, during the Nazis' unsuccessful putsch of 25 July; he asked his audience at the Jewish Club to rise in the memory

 

this great patriot and leader of his country, whom I knew very well and met very often... was one of the friends of our cause. He was one of those who established, with my help, the organisation of Gentile Friends of Zionism in the Austrian capital.[(4)]

 

The Gentile Friends had been set up in 1927. In 1929 Fritz Lohner Beda, the former president of the Zionist Hakoah Athletic Club, warned the Jews that they would be punished for their support for the Social Democrats when the reactionaries finished off the socialists. He continued with a promise that Jews would support the Fascist Heimwehr militia, if the rightists would only give up their anti-Semitism. He claimed that the socialists, as atheists, anti-nationalists and anti-capitalists were really the Jews' greatest enemies.[(5)]

 

'We Condemn Dissemination of Atrocity Stories from Austria Abroad'

 

While the Christian Socials feared Nazism as a threat to their own power, Hitler's success convinced Dollfuss that dictatorship was the coming thing, at least in Central Europe, and he finally heeded Mussolini's constant advice and provoked the Social Democrats into a rising in February 1934, which he crushed in a three-day battle. Over a thousand workers were murdered when the Heimwehr shelled the famous Karl Marx housing project. The Zionists' response to the massacre was quite clear. Robert Stricker, in a talk on the events before a party gathering, denounced the reports circulating abroad concerning persecution of Jews. He insisted this was false, saying that during those fateful days Austria had manifested a high level of culture rarely found elsewhere.[(6)] In fact the Dollfuss regime embarked on a policy of severe discrimination against the Jews, particularly in government employment, and many professionals were dismissed. However, the Zionist antagonism against the assimilationist socialist Jews made them the local and international apologists for the Christian Socials. In 1935 the government announced plans for segregating Jewish students in cases of 'overcrowding'. While the assimilationist Jewish leaders naturally opposed the scheme as the first step towards total school segregation, Stricker welcomed the new ghetto schools.[(7)] That same year, when the Austrian Foreign Minister inveighed against 'atrocity stories' appearing in the world press, Der Stimme, the organ of the Austrian Zionist Federation, hastened to explain that:

 

It is impossible nowadays to seal hermetically any country and hide events including anti-Jewish agitation. We condemn dissemination of atrocity stories from Austria abroad. This however, has never been done by Jews but by Austrian newspapers which are read abroad.[(8)]

 

The Christian Socials knew that they were no match for Hitler without foreign guarantors. While they looked to Mussolini to protect them militarily, they also required loans from the London and Paris banks and they had to persuade potential foreign backers that they were not an imitation of the Nazis. In May 1934 Dollfuss appointed Desider Friedmann, a veteran Zionist and head of the Viennese Jewish community organisation, to the State Council. There were other similar gestures by the regime towards Zionism. The Revisionists were permitted to use an estate given to them by a rich member as a training centre. A Revisionist writer later remembered the scene at the spacious country seat as taking on 'the appearance of a disciplined military camp' and, in September 1935, the government allowed the Revisionists to hold the founding congress of the New Zionist Organisation in Vienna.[(9)]

For reasons of foreign policy the regime always denied that it was discriminating against the Jews while coming up with absurd pretexts, as with the alleged overcrowding, to justify its anti-Semitism. Jews were even legally entitled to join the Fatherland Front which had replaced all the political parties including, technically, the Christian Socials after 1934. However, once Mussolini had decided to ally with Hitler, and it was clear that he was not prepared to protect Austria any longer, the regime had to desperately struggle to ward off a Nazi take-over. In January 1938 the Austrians tried to prove to Hitler that, although they were determined to stay independent, nevertheless they were still a 'German-Christian' state, and they established a segregated section in the Fatherland Front for Jewish youths. The Encyclopedia Judaica remarks laconically that 'the Zionists accepted willingly, but it angered those in favor of assimilation'.[(10)] However, although it was thus becoming more anti-Semitic in its efforts to keep the German Nazis out, the regime had no hesitation in using the Zionists to seek foreign financial support. Desider Friedmann was rushed abroad in early 1938, in the last weeks before the anschluss.[(11)] Dollfuss's successor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, tried a last ploy, announcing on 9 March a plebiscite on independence for 13 March, and the Zionist-dominated Jewish community organisation hastened to draw up a list of every Jew in Vienna to contribute to a fund to pay for Schuschnigg's campaign. Hitler had a much more realistic measure of Herr Schuschnigg and simply commanded him to resign, which he did on 11 March, and the German Army moved into Austria on 12 March.

 

The Folly of Zionist Reliance on the Christian Socials

 

Was the Zionists' support for the Austrian right ever justified? One might claim that the Christian Socials were the only barrier between the Jews and a Nazi take-over, but the alliance with them had begun in the 1920s when Hitler was not yet a threat. The establishment of the Gentile Friends cannot be defended in anti-Nazi terms. In fact the Austrian right, Dollfuss and Schuschnigg, were never an obstacle to a German take-over, but were a guarantee of a final Nazi victory. Joseph Buttinger, in the 1930s the leader of the Social Democratic under-ground, described the reality in his book, In the Twilight of Socialism. There was an anti-Nazi majority in Austria, but Schuschnigg was 'unable to use the political opportunity inherent in this circumstance'. He had to prevent any 'mass mobilisation against the brown fascism, because in a true fight for freedom he himself would inevitably be crushed'. This mass mobilisation was what mattered, said Buttinger, writing at that time, 'in so far as Austria matters at all, for in the final analysis the fate of Austria will be decided by international forces'. Hitler would attack Austria at a favourable moment, which he was cheerfully awaiting, with the Schuschnigg regime 'as his guarantee against the organisation of a defense in the meanwhile'.[(12)]

Austrian Jewry had only one hope: a resolute alliance, locally and internationally, with the Social Democrats. Unlike the discredited German socialists, the Austrian Social Democrats remained largely intact after their heroic, if poorly organised, resistance in 1934. Dollfuss's regime was the weakest of the Fascist states, and even after the massacre of the socialists on 12 February the new government was sustained, not so much by its own police power, as by the overawing presence of the Italian and Hungarian Armies on the borders that would fight for Dollfuss, and the equal certainty that the German Army would intervene rather than see the Social Democrats come to power. Clearly, neither the difficult international setting nor the strength of the Austrian regime can be minimised, but there were giant socialist demon-strations about Austria in Europe and America. However, instead of looking to the socialists, in Austria and abroad, for succour, the local Zionists looked to the regime, which was ultimately to surrender to Hitler without firing a shot. Nahum Goldmann, the representative of the WZO, consciously discouraged foreign Jews from demonstrating over Austrian anti-Semitism, choosing instead to place reliance on backstage whispers from Benito Mussolini.

 

 

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This text is a chapter of <Zionism in the Age of the Dictators ­ a Reappraisal>, by Lenni Brenner.

The copyright (©) belongs to the author. It was published by Croom Helm, Kent (Great­Britain) and Laurence Hill, Westport, Conn. in the USA, 277 p. ISBN (GB) 0­7099­0628­5; USA (paperback) 0­88208­164­0 in 1983. This book has been out of print for years.



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